“Babe? It’s almost noon now,” David murmurs, gently stroking my knotted hair back off of my face. “Are you ready to wake up?”
No. No, I certainly am not. In my mind, the argument is concise and articulate. I’m not ready to wake up yet because I am still jet lagged and travel weary and I have a fever and a sore throat and a general feeling of misery. But copious globs of snot have apparently blocked the pathways between my brain and my vocal chords, so I can only manage to choke out some guttural grumbling sound; a primordial beast waking from a deep slumber. “Nuhhhrg.”
“Keep sleeping,” David insists. He is already showered and dressed, ready for the day. Hours ago he ate breakfast without me, and since then he has been sitting upstairs playing video games and gazing out the window at the Irish rain, patiently waiting for me to get my butt out of bed. “I’ll wake you up in another hour.”
That is tempting. We’re staying in a little house called Atlantic View Cottage, and everything about it is cozy and warm. Right now, I feel like I could hibernate here all winter, lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean crashing a mile away. But no! Something in me rebels against the urge to sleep. “It’s our honeymoon!” I insist as I force myself, blinking and groggy, out of bed. “We have to go do things!”
“Babe, it’s ok,” David says. “Lots of people relax and stay in bed for most of their honeymoon!”
“Yeah, but they’re not sleeping,” I reply. “They’re doing other honeymoon activities.” There is no arguing with me at this point since I am already out of bed. It is New Year’s Eve. We are on our honeymoon in Ireland. We are going to go do something.
We arrived in Dublin on December 29th, rented a car, and drove out to the west coast. Researching for this trip several months back, we knew we wanted to stay in a self-catering cottage for the extra privacy and solitude, and also so we’d be able to cook our own meals to save money on dining out. We wanted that cottage to be close to two things: the ocean, and good pubs. Atlantic View Cottages in Doolin, a little village lauded as the premier home of traditional Irish music, seemed like the perfect place. A little touristy and kitschy during the summer months maybe, but we decided to go during the off-season, and as soon as we arrived we knew we’d made the right choice. We could smell the salt air before we’d even stepped out of the car, and the central part of town was quiet and peaceful. All the gift and novelty stores had shut their doors for the winter, and nothing was open but a small grocery shop and the village’s four pubs. It was perfect and exactly what we’d been looking for.
After sleeping off some of the jet lag, the next day we suited up in our cold weather gear and drove down to the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are spectacular, breathtaking with a harsh and powerful beauty where the three worlds of earth, sea, and sky collide together in a violent and ecstatic meeting. David and I hiked to the top and stared down at the ocean and rock in quiet reverence. We dared each other to climb over the fence, to leave all safety and sanity behind and walk out to the very edge. We egged each other on with promises of, “I will if you will!” but we were both too chicken. Even while positioned back behind the security of the barrier, with the cold wind whipping sea foam up into our faces, it still felt like standing at the end of the world.
That was yesterday. Sometime between then and now, I came down with a cold of some sort. David was sick before we left home, and it seems he passed the disease on to me. Out of bed, I stumble around the room for a few minutes, banging into things and barely able to open my eyes. David watches this pathetic charade with concerned amusement until I admit that maybe taking it easy would be a good idea. He agrees, and we spend the day sitting in bed together with him playing games and me reading. For dinner, we head into town and eat at one of the pubs. They’re having music and a party tonight, and we briefly consider staying but decide against it. We’re back at the cottage by 9pm, and David wakes me up at midnight to wish me a Happy New Year. It is a quiet start to 2013 and to our honeymoon. By the next day, I have gotten 16 straight hours of sleep. “Don’t feel bad,” David says, trying to console my guilt. “Aslan gets that much sleep every day!” Aslan is our pet cat. I remind David of this species difference and he admits that maybe my amount of sleep was excessive. I’m feeling better, so we bundle up, pack a picnic, and go off to explore the area.
Doolin is situated on the edge of the Burren, a harsh and ancient landscape of rough and craggy limestone that stretches on for miles. It’s hard to make a living in this place, and yet people have been doing it for millennia, forcing the land to yield to them, and evidence of their triumphs over nature are scattered across the region. The Burren hosts hundreds of archeological sites, from stone circles and burial cairns to ringforts and deserted famine villages. We have a map with some of these points of interest marked. We have our trusty GPS. We have our wits, and we consider ourselves to be fairly competent people, especially when working together as a team. We’re confident that we can find some of these sites.
We’re wrong. We find nothing. The map is missing a lot of roads, the GPS keeps telling us to take terrifyingly narrow and unpaved paths, and our wits are far more suited to city navigation than wilderness exploration. At first it is stressful and tense. We yell a lot at the GPS, whom we have named Doris. Many years ago, we learned that having an inanimate object to scream at helps prevent us from venting road frustrations out on each other.
“Doris you stupid, useless robot! Why would you take us down this road?”
“Is this supposed to be two lanes? This is barely wide enough for our car!”
“Oh my god look out for the cows! There are cows in the road, cows in the road! How did they even get up here? We’re on a freaking mountain!”
But David is getting used to the roads, slowly growing a little more confident, and by the end of it we are able to just enjoy the gorgeous views. We find a place to pull off the road at the top of a ridge. We get out of the car and hold hands as we look out over the valley below. It’s beautiful. This has been a good day, despite our failure as explorers. The next day, we have more success. Ignoring the stupid GPS, we manage to find Poulnabrone Dolmen, a megalith that used to serve as a burial chamber. It stands sentinel over the Burren, quietly dominating the barren land around it. There is no one else here. We are alone in the wilderness with the tomb.
We stand close to it and take pictures, and then fall back to find a place to sit where we can look at it while we eat our picnic lunch.
Staring at the dolmen, I am struck by a sense of deep and disorienting connectivity. This is why we wanted to come to Ireland in the first place: to feel a sense of connection, unbound by time, to the people who walked this earth before us. The feeling is difficult to find in America, where everything of historical significance is so very young by comparison, and where most sites are pristinely kept and reconstructed, turned into tourist attractions with visitor’s centers and gift shops. Not so in Ireland.
There’s enough evidence of history in this country that they can afford to leave much of it to the wild. We sit staring at the tomb, built five thousand or more years ago by our Celtic ancestors, and we’re moved to silence by this unbridled encounter with the past. No one is around for miles, and in the solitude we have a chance to feel connected. We listen to the restless wind and look at the grey dolmen set on grey stone against a backdrop of swirling grey sky. Ghosts of Irish myth surround us, and my imagination catches glimpses of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fianna. It’s the closest thing I can envision to time travel. The rest of our time in Ireland passes similarly, with moments of newfound connection between each other and to the land forged in stone circles and on cliff sides overlooking the sea. Originally, we had planned on taking a ferry out to the Aran Islands but we are told that the boats don’t normally operate during the winter. Looking at the wicked waves around the pier, we think that might be for the best. We tour Ailwee Cave one day, and David and I somehow end up at the very back of the tour group. We spend half of the time oohing over the beautiful underground waterfalls, and the other half nervously glancing over our shoulders at the dark and empty cavern behind us, wondering if a cave monster is going to snatch us and drag us off to its lair. David promises that he will defend me against any cave monsters we meet.
He makes me climb a mountain that day, after the cave. I don’t want to. I’m still sick, congested, and it’s hard to breathe. Plus, it’s going to be dark soon and we have to drive back while the roads are still partially visible. I keep losing my footing on the loose limestone and I’m convinced I’m going to trip and tumble to my death. I complain the entire time. David quietly puts up with my whining and pushes me to go a little bit further. We find a solitary purple wildflower blooming in winter, and we watch the sunset over the ridge, just able to glimpse the ocean in the distance. David’s curls are windswept and his hair looks almost red in this light. He’s smiling at the view even though I’m being terribly annoying. We climb back down in silence, and when we reach the car I gasp for air and thank him for making me continue on when I wanted to go back.
We spend our last night in Doolin down in a pub. Though we have heard traditional music on other nights, we haven’t been lucky enough to get a seat close enough to any of the musicians to actually see them perform. We’ve almost given up hope since no music has started by the time we’ve finished our stew, but just before we’re ready to leave a trio of men walk in with instrument cases. David and I smile at each other and he jumps up to order us another round; Guinness for him, Mangers hard cider for me. The band settles in at a table right across from us. These haggard, rough-and-ready looking musicians (all three of them older men who are missing limbs, men who look like a lifetime of salty sea air has weathered their faces and swept their hair into permanent wispy wildness) laugh and smile at each other and the pub’s patrons as they set up. David and I sit in the corner and enjoy the craic, applauding heartily after every song. There is a guitar and banjo, and a singer whose tenor voice lilts like the tide through the Irish folksongs. David buys one of their albums as we leave, and on the drive back we agree that it was a perfect way to end our time in Ireland.
We’re not done with our honeymoon yet, though. The beauty of using Traveler’s Joy, as opposed to doing a honeymoon registry through a travel agency, is the flexibility it affords. We waited a few months after our October wedding before going on our honeymoon. When we went to book the airfare, we realized that though getting to Europe in the first place is expensive, country hopping around the continent once you’re already there is incredibly affordable. So on January 7th we pack up the car, drive back to Dublin and fly out for a quick side trip to Paris.
Throughout the course of our honeymoon, David and I have to trust and rely on each other in completely new ways. I was too scared to get behind the wheel of a car in Ireland, so I relied on him completely to manage the driving and maneuvering on the country roads. (He did a fantastic job, by the way, and quickly adapted to driving on the left.) In Paris, David has to rely on my ability to communicate for both of us since he does not speak French.
Paris is expensive, so to save money and to hopefully get a more authentically Parisian experience, we rent an apartment from a lovely girl named Marie, through the website Airbnb.com. It’s a trendy little studio right in the heart of Montmartre. Though we are exhausted and travel weary, we only have three days in Paris so we force ourselves to go out and explore.
Montmartre reminds me of the Village in New York City; it’s a strange combination of historic, trendy, touristy, and seedy. Many great artists and writers have lived in this neighborhood, and I have a romanticized view of it going in. That view is shattered a little bit. We can barely see the cobblestone streets through the smears of dog waste, and the smell of fresh bread from the boulangeries is clouded by a haze of cigarette smoke, but we learn to appreciate the area for what it is. The glory days of Montmartre may belong to a bygone era, but it still has abundant personality and we quickly grow to love it. On our way to dinner, a street artist stops us and offers to sketch us. “A masterpiece!” he promises. “You two together, to show your love forever in Paris!”
Normally we would ignore such hawkers, but he seems earnest and funny, and he tells us he is Serbian and today is the Orthodox Christmas. We can’t turn him down…not when he’s working on his Christmas day! So we sit and he draws us. The result looks like a police sketch-artist’s interpretation of David as relayed by a witness who caught only the barest glimpse of him, sitting next to a strange girl who is definitely not me. Back at the apartment later we unroll the masterpiece to look at it again. “Who is that one actress?” David asks me. “The one who was on Friends?”
“Yeah, her! That’s who you look like in this drawing.”
“Oh my god, you’re right!” I agree. We laugh and agree to proudly display our masterpiece drawing of David and Jennifer Aniston once we get home.
The next day, we head out to the Musée d'Orsay. David is not an art person, but I want to see the Van Gogh paintings so we make it a quick stop. In the gallery, I stare into the face of Vincent’s self-portrait, the one where his shirt and his eyes are the same swirling pale blue as the background, and I start to cry. More connections. I feel them despite the crowd of people jostling around me. David agrees that seeing the paintings in person is a different experience than seeing them on a computer screen. We browse around the museum a little longer, and then walk towards the Eiffel Tower.
It sneaks up on us. We glimpse it from a distance as we are approaching, but it disappears behind buildings as we get nearer. After half an hour of walking, we think we’re close. Searching for the park around the base, we turn a corner and bam, there it is looming over us in all its glory. We both do a double take and immediately reach for our camera.
Paris has an off-season, which I would not have expected, but I’m grateful for. There is practically no one else around, and we are able to sit on a bench together and watch the tower light up as the sun goes down. We take an impromptu cruise on the Seine River, and the commentary is in French and English so I get a break from translating for a while. We pass by all the sites of the city: Notre Dame, the Louvre, the many gorgeous bridges. Despite the late hour, all of these magnificent buildings are washed in a shine of golden light, and they shimmer in the gentle rain. We understand now why Paris is called the city of lights. The whole city seems to glow.
Our last night in Paris, David tells me, “Babe. I think I want to live here. This might be my favorite city.” David has his master’s degree in urban planning; he deals with cities by trade and studies their intricacies. He’s very discerning, and has strong opinions on what makes a good city, so this declaration is a pretty big deal coming from him. “Ok,” I say. “Someday. We couldn’t afford it right now. We’d run out of money and starve to death in the streets.”
“That would be unfortunate,” he says, and we both agree that we’re ready to go home now anyway.
On January 11th, we fly back home; back to work, and grad school, and our apartment with its leaking roof. Back to our cat, who is mad at us for leaving him with my parents and their dogs for so long. Back to real life.
It feels like we’ve been gone for a long time. And it also feels like we should be much more broke than we actually are. Coming back from a big international trip should have left our bank accounts in withering destitution, but thanks to Traveler’s Joy, our generous friends and family, and our careful budget-conscious planning, we have no reason to stress about bills.
All in all, the trip, including airfare for two people, cost us about $3,000. Our Traveler’s Joy gifts covered almost two-thirds of that total cost. We kept prices low by going during the off-season, by staying in self-catering accommodations instead of relying on pricey hotels and restaurants every day, and by finding things to do that came with no admission charges. Despite illnesses and getting lost, we enjoyed our time simply being somewhere new together and we adapted our explorations to fit what we were feeling each day.
We travel well together. We’re well-matched in traveling styles, and this itinerary was perfect for our honeymoon. There’s something for everyone in a city like Paris, and we’d recommend a trip there to anyone. Doolin and Western Ireland, though, might be a bit more of an acquired taste when it comes to honeymoon destinations. It was rainy and cold, very quiet and isolated. It was definitely not your typical “lounge on a beach together and drink tropical concoctions” kind of honeymoon. But for any couple who is searching for quiet, dramatically beautiful outdoor adventures, topped off with good food and good music in an Irish village, Doolin might be perfect for them. It certainly was for us. I know we’d definitely go back.
For now, it is good to be home and have a few days to rest before real life starts back up. We’re tired and travel-weary. But I’m sure that won’t last long. We had already started planning for our next adventure before our plane had even landed.